By Dr Ahmed Nasr
What Is Snoring?
Snoring is noisy breathing while you sleep. It’s a common condition that can affect anyone, although it happens more often in men and in people who are overweight. Snoring tends to get worse with age.
Snoring once in a while isn’t usually a serious problem. It’s mostly a nuisance for your bed partner. But if you’re a long-term snorer, you not only disrupt the sleep patterns of those close to you, you hurt your own sleep quality.
Snoring can itself be a symptom of a health problem like obstructive sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor if you’re overly sleepy during the day, if you snore often or very loudly, or if your partner notices that you sometimes stop breathing altogether. You might need medical help so you (and your loved ones) can get a good night’s sleep.
Snoring happens when the flow of air through your mouth and nose is blocked. Several things can interfere with air flow, including:
- Blocked nasal airways. Some people snore only during allergy season or when they have a sinus infection. Problems in your nose such as a deviated septum (when the wall that separates one nostril from the other is off-center) or nasal polyps can also block your airways.
- Poor muscle tone in your throat and tongue. Throat and tongue muscles can be too relaxed, which allows them to collapse into your airway.
- Bulky throat tissue. Being overweight can cause this. Some children have large tonsils and adenoids that make them snore.
- Long soft palate and/or uvula. A long soft palate or a long uvula (the dangling tissue in the back of your mouth) can narrow the opening from your nose to your throat. When you breathe, this causes them to vibrate and bump against one another, and your airway becomes blocked.
- Alcohol and drug use. Drinking alcohol or taking muscle relaxers can also make your tongue and throat muscles relax too much.
- Sleep position. Sleeping on your back can make you snore. So can using a pillow that’s too soft or too large.
- Sleep deprivation. Your throat muscles might relax too much if you’re not getting enough sleep.
Snoring Diagnosis and Treatment
Your partner might be the person who tells you that you snore. Your doctor will ask both of you about your symptoms.
Your doctor will also ask about your medical history and do a physical exam to look for things that could block your airways, like chronic nasal congestion due to rhinitis or sinusitis, a deviated septum, or swollen tonsils. They might also give you some tests:
- Imaging tests. An X-ray, MRI scan, or CT scan can look for problems in your airways.
- Sleep study. You might need to have a machine monitor your sleep while you’re at home or spend the night in a lab for a test called polysomnography. It will measure things like your heart rate, breathing, and brain activity while you sleep.
Treatments for snoring include:
- Lifestyle changes. Your doctor might tell you to lose weight, quit smoking, or stop drinking alcohol before bed.
- Oral appliances. You wear a small plastic device in your mouth while you sleep. It keeps your airways open by moving your jaw or tongue.
- Surgery. Several kinds of procedures can help stop snoring. Your doctor might remove or shrink tissues in your throat, or make your soft palate stiffer.
- CPAP. A continuous positive airway pressure machine treats sleep apnea and might reduce snoring by blowing air into your airways while you sleep.
Home Remedies to Stop Snoring
Try these other solutions to get a good night’s sleep.
- Sleep on your side, not your back.
- Raise the head of your bed a few inches.
- Use elastic strips that stick to the bridge of your nose to widen your nostrils.
- Use decongestants to open your airways. Don’t use them for more than 3 days without talking to your doctor.
- Stick to a sleep schedule.
Snoring doesn’t seem to have complications. But sleep apnea can cause problems, including:
- Frequent waking from sleep, even though you may not realize it
- Light sleeping. Waking up so many times a night interferes with your normal pattern of sleep, causing you to spend more time in light sleep than in more restorative, deeper sleep.
- Strain on your heart. Long-term obstructive sleep apnea often raises blood pressure and may make your heart get bigger, with higher risks of heart attack and stroke.
- Poor night's sleep. This makes you sleepy during the day, can interfere with your quality of life, and can make car accidents more likely.